There was no one in sight when we entered the restaurant except for the welcoming smell of incense. We stood by the door, not sure what to do, until a beautiful young woman appeared through the kitchen doors, with the warmth of someone welcoming visitors to her own home.
She sat us down, handed us the menus and disappeared to the kitchen to give us some time and space to browse the food items with strange names. Our first lesson to Ethiopian food was on the front cover of the menu. We learned that Ethiopian food is served in big round plates called Ma'adi, made to be shared and enjoyed with good company. Another tradition about Ethiopian meals is kulaso: to feed your companion with your own hands as a show of respect and appreciation.
When she came back to take our drink orders, we asked for the traditional coffee Dunn which took her by surprise, signaling to us that maybe that was against the etiquette. We asked her what the traditional way is, she said "food first, then coffee" with her lovely accent.
So we ordered food first! Unable to decide what to eat, we ordered the Traditional Combo combining pretty much half the menu items: Kelwa Keyih, Zengy Keyih, Dorho Tsebhi, Shiro, Tsebhi Ayne Ater, and Hamli (spelling taken directly from the menu).
Apparently, she was also the cook. While we listened to the pleasant cooking sounds from the kitchen, we educated ourselves about this eastern African country that is a hub of many different languages, and religions, where some of the oldest evidence for anatomically modern humans has been found. It also is the most populous landlocked country in the world with over 90 million inhabitants.
Other patrons had started coming in by the time the Ma'adi arrived accompanied by the appetizing spicy scent and a basket of rolled up injara. The bottom of the large plate was lined with a large injara as the background to the colorful chicken, beef, lamb and vegetable piles.
Injara is somewhere between a lavash and a thick pancake and serves as your utensils!
Everything tasted amazing perfectly blending the meats, tomatoes, green peppers, and spices for every dish to yield different tastes. Our shared plate was almost cleared when she re-appeared from the kitchen with a sizzling smoking pot of coffee beans to show us how freshly our coffee would be roasted and ground before it became our after-meal beverage.
The next time she came back to our table was with the entire coffee regalia of a high tray topped with two small porcelain coffee cups, a gourd looking clay coffee pot called jebena with a side of incense. This was perfect for Ethiopia is where coffee has its origins and where it is celebrated the most.
We poured the coffee into our cups noting the stringy filter stuffed in the spout of the coffee pot. Finding out the stringy filter was actually horse hair did not deter us from tasting the very dark coffee.
Sugar in our coffee was our dessert and the coffee itself was the perfect punctuation to end our meal.
I was secretly happy that our adventure took an unexpected detour to take us to an unintended country today. What can I say - I love surprises!
መልካም ምግብ (melkam megeb)